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Home and walking tours to celebrate West Coast Modern design

New this year is a walking tour of some iconic Ambleside buildings in West Van

In the post-war years of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, architects pioneering a new kind of modernism unique to the West Coast chose the North Shore as a place to build their family homes.

They included people like B.C. Binning, who built his own home in West Vancouver. With a flat roof and floor-to-ceiling windows that embraced the outside environment, it was regarded by many as the first Modern style home in Western Canada.

Contemporaries included emerging architects such as Ron Thom and Arthur Erickson.

The homes celebrated their environments of dense rainforest and rocky promontories. Floor plans were designed around the natural terrain. Post and beam structures allowed for construction of difficult sites.

“They were a little bit more experimental in these projects than they would have been in commercial projects. And so there started to be this sort of like-minded community of artists, designers, and architects,” said Hilary Letwin, administrative curator at the West Vancouver Art Museum.

West Coast Modern has roots in West Vancouver

“Really the tradition of West Coast Modern residential design took off from there, here in West Vancouver,” said Letwin.

Next week, the art museum’s annual West Coast Modern Week events will again celebrate the role that West Vancouver has played in this design tradition.

Organizers also hope that by showcasing some of the best local examples of the tradition, it will spur public interest in preserving this heritage.

Arthur Mudry’s 1989 Chun House. | Oleg Sododchenko

Home tour is highlight

Now in its 17th year, the highlight of the week’s events is Saturday’s West Coast Modern Home Tour happening July 8. Since 2006, the event has opened more than 60 architectural showpieces to the public, ranging from original mid-century modern homes to contemporary interpretations.

Starting in 2006 with a 25-seat mini-bus, the tour has now grown to sell out its 150 tickets every year.

“We try to find a really good balance,” said Letwin – of older properties, renovated homes and new architecturally designed homes that take their cues from West Coast Modernism.

This year, as in past years, architects who have been part of heritage renovations will also be on hand to answer questions at some of the properties.

Ron Thom’s 1957 Carmichael House. | Urban Pictures

Ron Thom's Carmichael House among those featured this year

Among the featured homes this year are Ron Thom’s 1957 Carmichael House, showcasing the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright in its hexagonal plan, and Wolfgang Gerson’s 1967 Itzinger-Meuldyk House showcasing the connection between natural and built environments, and Arthur Mudry’s 1989 Chun House, featuring panoramic views.

It also includes Donald Manning’s 1955 McGee House, a small single-storey home set in a private forested corner of West Vancouver.

Paul Merrick’s penthouse apartment and boathouse space in the new Sewell’s Landing development at Horseshoe Bay provides a modern take on the aesthetic. That is also the first apartment to be featured on the home tour, said Letwin.

Over the years it’s been hosted, the home tour has grown wildly popular, attracting repeat customers from as far away as Portland and Seattle.

The popularity of the event was the basis for expanding the week last year to offer other programming, she said, in a manner that echoes Palm Springs’ annual Modernism Week.

This year, Sidney Williams , former curator of architecture and design at the Palm Springs Art Museum, will discuss the similarities and difference between the desert modernism of the Palm Springs area and the North Shore’s west coast take on the style in a lecture July 4.

Pink Palace-WV-Villa Maris
West Vancouver's Villa Maris or "the Pink Palace" at 2222 Bellevue Ave. Cindy Goodman, North Shore News files

Walking tour of Ambleside's iconic apartment buildings new this year

New this year is a walking tour of some of West Vancouver’s iconic Ambleside apartment buildings. Over the course of two hours, the tour will touch on the evolution of the neighbourhood from an area of weekend cottages to construction of high-rise apartments in the 1950s through the 1970s. Villa Maris, also known as the “Pink Palace”, the nearby Shorelands  and The Crescent are among the stops.

A panel discussion at The Polygon on restoration of older modern homes on the evening of July 5 and a free concert by the Itamar Erez Quartet bringing bossa nova vibes to the West Vancouver Memorial Library July 6 round out the week’s events.

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